Week Beginning 4th March 2013

I spent most of Monday and Tuesday this week playing around with some of the data Wendy and Ellen used for their ‘Fifty Shades of Metaphor’ presentation and a Javascript based visualisation toolkit that was recommended to me (http://philogb.github.com/jit/) in preparation for the Mapping Metaphor meeting next week.  The results can be found at this (temporary) URL:

http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/STELLA/briantest/mm/Jit/Examples/ForceDirected/example1.html

Using the options down the left-hand side you can view the metaphors related to light, plus only those that have been categorised as ‘strong’ or ‘weak’.  You can also view the combined metaphors for beauty and light – either showing all, strong, weak or only those metaphors that relate to both beauty and light.

The graph itself can be scrolled around and zoomed in and out of like Google Maps – Click and hold and move the mouse to scroll, use the scroll wheel to zoom in and out.  Brighter lines and bigger dots indicate ‘strong’ metaphors.  If you hover over a node you can see its ID plus the number of connections.  Click on a node to view connection details in the right-hand column.   If you click and hold on a node you can drag it about the screen – useful for grouping nodes or simply moving some out of the way to make room.  Note that you can do this on the central node too, which you’ll almost certainly have to do on the ‘connections to both beauty and light’ graph.

The interface is purely Javascript based so requires no plug-in to work.  I’ve tested the script in Firefox, Chrome and IE in Windows 7 so far.  The script works in all, even in IE when set to ‘compatibility mode’ and emulating IE7.  There is a bit of a performance issue in Chrome, rather surprisingly: zooming in and out causes things to run very slowly.  The cause of this would need further investigation if this solution is chosen for the project.  In all browsers it can take a little time to load in the data (see the ‘percentage complete’ info at the top of the screen as processing takes place).

I  think there would be some pretty major benefits to using this script for the project:

1: It is all based around plain old HTML, CSS and Javascript and requires no additional software so should keep working for many years to come.

2: The data used is in the JSON format, which can easily be constructed from database queries or CSV files – I made a simple PHP script to convert Ellen’s CSV files to the necessary format (an example of one of the source files can be viewed here: http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/STELLA/briantest/mm/Jit/Examples/ForceDirected/light-strong.json)

3: it would pretty straightforward to make the graphs more interactive by taking user input and generating JSON files based on this

4: Updating the code shouldn’t be too tricky – for example in addition to showing connections in the right-hand column when a secondary node linked to both beauty and light (e.g. ‘love’)  is clicked on, we can provide options to make this node the centre of a new graph, or add it as a new ‘primary node’ to display in addition to beauty and light.  Another example: users could remove nodes they are not interested in to ‘declutter’ the graph.

There are some possible downsides too:

1:  People might want something that looks a bit fancer (having said that it is possible to customise all elements of the look and feel)

2:  It probably won’t scale very well if you need to include a lot more data than these examples show

3:  It doesn’t appear to be possible to manually define the length of certain lines (e.g. to make ‘strong’ connections appear in one circle, ‘weak’ ones further out).

4:  The appearance of the graph is random each time it loads – sometimes the layout of the nodes is much nicer than other times.

5:  All processing (other than the generation of the JSON source files) takes place at the client side so low powered devices will possibly struggle with the graphs (e.g. tablets, netbooks, old PCs)

On Wednesday I completed the required updates to ARIES, specifically adding in the ‘no highlight’ script to all exercises to avoid exercise contents being highlighted when users quickly click the exercise boxes.  I also added in a facility to enable users to view the correct answers in stage 2 of the monstrous ‘further punctuation’ exercises.  If you check your answers once and don’t manage to get everything right a link now appears that when clicked on highlights all the required capital letters in bold, green text and places all the punctuation in the right places.

I spent a bit of time continuing to work on the technical plan for the Bess of Hardwick follow-on project, but I’m not making particularly good progress with it.  I think it’s because the deadline for getting the bid together is now the summer and it’s more difficult to complete things when there’s no imminent deadline!  I will try to get this done soon though.

I returned to the ‘Grammar’ app this week and finally managed to complete all the sections of the ‘book’.  I’ve now started on the exercises, but haven’t got very far with them as yet.  I also started work on the Burns Timeline, after Pauline sent me the sample content during the week.  I should have something to show next week.

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